7 Cognitive Biases That Screw Up Your Interviews

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By Drake Baer and Shana Lebowitz

A job interview is ultimately an interaction between two (or more) human beings.

So while we'd like to believe that our interviewers are immune to the psychological pitfalls that could cause them to misjudge us, they're probably not.

Instead, they're prone to do things like predict our professional performance based on the performance of similar people they know.

Here, we've rounded up seven cognitive biases that affect how your interviewer perceives you -- and how likely you are to land the job.Affect Heuristic

The way you feel affects the way you interpret the world, which can be to your detriment if the interviewer projects negative feelings onto you.

As Jim Saksa points out on Slate, the affect heuristic helps explain why some people loathe cyclists. If an uncautious cyclist slams into your car, you might be so angry that you'll decide all cyclists are idiots, even though statistics suggest otherwise.

The same logic could presumably apply to any group of people -- writers, lawyers, or people who wear red shirts -- if you've had a bad experience with them.

Anchoring Bias

People are overreliant on the first piece of information they hear.

In a salary negotiation, for instance, whoever makes the first offer establishes a range of reasonable possibilities in each person's mind.

Any counteroffer will naturally be anchored by that opening offer.

Availability heuristic

When people overestimate the importance of information that is easy to remember.

In one experiment, a professor asked students to list either two or 10 ways to improve his class. Students that had to come up with 10 ways gave the class much higher ratings, likely because they had a harder time thinking about what was wrong with the class.

This phenomenon could easily apply in the case of job interviews. If you have a hard time recalling what a candidate did wrong during an interview, you'll likely rate him higher than if you can recall those things easily.

Blind-Spot Bias

Failing to recognize your cognitive biases is a bias in itself.

Notably, Princeton psychologist Emily Pronin has found that "individuals see the existence and operation of cognitive and motivational biases much more in others than in themselves."

People with a high blind-spot bias are least likely to learn from de-biasing training and to listen to expert advice when making decisions.

Confirmation bias

We tend to listen only to the information that confirms our preconceptions. Once you've formed an initial opinion about someone, it's hard to change your mind.

For example, researchers had participants watch a video of a student taking an academic test. Some participants were told that the student came from a high socioeconomic background; others were told the student came from a low socioeconomic background. Those in the first condition believed the student's performance was above grade level, while those in the second condition believed the student's performance was below.

> Find a job in socioeconomics

If you know some information about a candidate's background, you might be inclined to use that information to make false judgments about his or her ability.

Salience

Our tendency to focus on the most easily recognizable features of a person or concept.

For example, research suggests that when there's only one member of a racial minority on a business team, other members use that individual's performance to predict how any member of that racial group would perform.

Stereotyping

Expecting a group or person to have certain qualities without having real information about the individual.

There may be some value to stereotyping because it allows us to quickly identify strangers as friends or enemies. But people tend to overuse it. For example, one study found that people were more likely to hire a hypothetical male candidate over a female candidate to perform a mathematical task, even when they learned that the candidates would perform equally well.
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